episode 3 land of the blind In Kalmykia,
you forget you’re in Russia. Thinking of Russia, you don’t
see steppes full of sheep. That’s what Kalmykia is. It’s also one of the
poorest regions in Russia. Alyosha. The steppe is beautiful to me. But isn’t Holland green too?
– No, we don’t have a lot of nature. In Holland?
– Yes, it’s completely urbanised. It’s much better here, more space. This is nothing. Where I’m from, that’s the real
steppe. Total emptiness. But we were driving for three hours
and we didn’t see anyone. Anyone.
– Incredible. How many sheep do you have?
– 300. 300?
– I used to have 400. They winter and lamb here. But there’s no growth,
it’s completely stagnated. I need a loan to get the production
up and running again. Now there’s no production. All my money goes to land,
water and electricity. I don’t have any income. I keep having to sell livestock
to be able to pay the bills. And what about two years
from now, for instance? How many sheep will you
have left then? Even less? That all depends on whether
the prices will go up or not. The prices of land,
water and electricity. If the prices keep going up… …we’ll have to slaughter livestock
and pay our debts. I’ve been trying to get a loan
for a year. I recently went to the bank again. Interest rates are already
as high as 17 percent now. That’s far beyond what I can afford. I went to the bank the other day. They said it’s crisis
everywhere now. You keep seeing it on TV as well. Do you think things will change? Change?
Maybe. They keep making promises.
We’ll have to wait and see. Sergei, how far is it still?
– About 115 miles. How many inhabitants does
Elista have? Is it a small city? About 120,000 inhabitants. There are 300,000 people
in Kalmykia. And the president…
– We call him head of government. He loves chess, right?
– Yes. Do you like chess as well?
– No, I can’t play chess. Moscow has forced Kalmykia into
receivership, due to bankruptcy. The named cause: president Kirsan
Ilyumzhinov’s strange decisions. The city is full of Buddhist temples
built with non-existent funds. It’s intriguing to me that this man
is still in power after 16 years. I just talked to the PR director
of the president of Kalmykia… …and head of the
World Chess Federation. The interview will be tomorrow. I received this
as required reading material. The president’s autobiography. Here he is with the pope. And a gift for the pope. With Florencio Campomanes,
quite a heavyweight. Here he’s visiting a dead woman. Smiling. With the famous artist
Ernst Neizvestny. Fantastic. Okay, he’s pretty famous. Ilyumzhinov is a typical product of
the cowboy capitalism in the 90s… …when the right connections could
get you a factory for a pittance. And within weeks
you were a millionaire. His book even has a chapter titled
‘How I Became a Millionaire’. Good day.
– Good day. Jelle.
– Welcome. Are you the director of this school?
– Yes, I am Svetlana Kukayeva. I heard that a famous student
used to go to this school. That’s right. Our president,
Kirsan Nikolayevich Ilyumzhinov. Was he a good student? He passed his final exam
with honours. We heard that you teach
the students chess here. Yes, all students are taught chess
from the first grade. A lot of people in Kalmykia
play chess. Can we visit a classroom?
– Of course. We can?
Right now? You can visit
Batar Anatolyevich’s class now. He will show you.
– Alright, let’s go. They’re learning chess here.
– Hello. Good morning.
– Good morning. These are our chess players. How are you?
– Fine. Alright, children.
Can I have your attention? White and black play against
each other, like two armies. There’s a general: the king. There are different units: The cavalry and the infantry.
Those are the pawns. Just like in a real army. What’s this called? You don’t remember? Diago…
– Diagonal. Diagonal line.
How do we denote the verticals? With letters.
– That’s right. And the horizontals? With numbers.
– Very good, with numbers. What’s this square called?
– Horizontal. No, this square.
– E5. E5, very good.
Now I’ll point out a square. I want you to say its name,
in unison. All together.
– G1. You can capture a pawn
en passant… …if it moves to the square
next to your pawn. You’re on the right track.
Memorise that line. Now put the pieces away. Here we introduce them
to the game of chess. This is where they learn
what chess is. Chess leads to a certain
way of thinking. Someone who can play chess
will think differently. He will project situations
from his life onto the chessboard. He tests everything against laws
of logic, which I think is very good. Can you imagine your school
without chess? No, I can’t. Chess lessons are a tradition now,
especially at this school. The Ministry of Education
has decided… …to add chess lessons
to the curriculum. They’re taking a break
from their chess lessons. But it’s the favourite activity
of Kalmyk children… …so they even play chess
during breaks. Are we winning? Who’s the best player here?
– She won a medal. You won a medal?
– A gold one. A gold one? You also play chess after school?
– Yes. During breaks as well?
– Yes. And while you sleep?
– No. Then you just sleep?
– Yes. Do you like having chess in school?
– Yes. Continue the game.
Otherwise we might lose. We’re at the biggest market
in Elista, the capital of Kalmykia. Tomorrow we’ll interview
the president… …but now we’re going to find out
what people think of him. During the Soviet times, all the
factories were still in operation. People had jobs back then. There was a meat processing plant
and a textile factory. Now only a few factories
are still in use. There was stability. People were
satisfied, everyone had an income. Things are different now,
there’s chaos. People are leaving Kalmykia
en masse. They go to Moscow,
Saint Petersburg, or abroad. To make money,
because there’s nothing here. There used to be
300,000 people here. If 100,000 remain,
we should be glad. What do you think of the president? There are no jobs.
– Especially for young people, right? Just read this. Read it and trust the press. Take me: I have a university degree
and I work as a market vendor. I’m unemployed. Draw your own conclusion.
And I have a young child too. Read it and see for yourself. The Tatar and Kazakh presidents
manage their republics well. The Belarus president is great too. They produce
their own milk and meat. But we Kalmyks are penniless,
we have nothing. We’re livestock farmers, but there
are no sheep left on our meadows. All this chess playing,
I don’t like it at all. I think there’s too much
money spent on it. This money should go to hospitals.
They really need it. There are much better ways
to spend it than on chess. During a previous visit,
I met Vladimir Sharayev. He leads opposition party Yabloko,
which will never come to power. We’re approaching City Chess,
the chess city. It was built ten years ago. In 1998, the Chess Olympiad
was held here. City Chess?
– Yes, it means chess city. But actually it’s just a villa district. What were the plans
for this city after the Olympiad? The plan was
to sell all the houses… …and make money that way,
but they didn’t succeed. So it was built ten years ago,
and it’s already… Yes, it’s falling apart.
The city was built on clay soil. After heavy rainfall,
in spring or autumn… …the clay starts to slide and crack. Ilyumzhinov’s people said
that the Olympiad would bring in… …100 million dollars for Kalmykia. That a lot of money
could be made off it. But it’s not the Champions League.
It’s a different kind of business. Chess doesn’t have so many fans.
It’s not so lucrative. And the poor gullible people
were promised 100 million. Did they fall for it?
– Some did. No Chess Olympiad could ever
produce that much money. Only the Olympic Games maybe. Is anyone living there? No, only the façades were finished.
Inside it’s empty. They painted everything white
and installed window frames. The houses already have cracks. Within ten years,
the walls have become crooked. So it’s just a waste of money?
– Yes. Las Vegas grew so big thanks
to poker, but that’s gambling. Chess isn’t gambling, but a battle
between two individuals. Right?
It’s an intellectual game. You can build a city
around card games and gambling. But you can’t make money
with chess. It’s a museum city. Our interview with this man
should have taken place yesterday. But then it was postponed to today,
and now they moved it to tomorrow. So I hope it will actually
happen tomorrow. The divide between rich and poor
is not a typically Russian thing. But what’s so painful
about Kalmykia… …is that so much time,
money and energy is devoted… …to the president’s hobby: chess. Especially for young people
it’s very hard to find a job here. So it’s not surprising
that most young Kalmyks… …about 80 percent of young
people, move to Moscow. But Moscow is a dangerous place
for people who don’t look Russian. You have to ask them
to show everything. One bed for twin babies?
– Yes. They have to understand
that we don’t want two beds. Dark wood is supposed
to be better. Is it a cot?
– Yes. Here’s another cot
made of dark wood. What’s this one like?
– It has wheels. This one doesn’t rock.
– Is there a mobile above it? No, those are normal toys. What’s the price?
– 2670 roubles. Are you looking for a cot?
– Yes. What kind of cot?
– We’re having twins. Twins?
– We want one bed for two babies. We don’t have cots for twins. Are these toys included? No, you buy them separately.
– I understand. I went to Moscow to make money,
just like everyone else. I followed my cousin there. We went in three buses
full of people. It was tough in the beginning.
It was hard to find a job. Nobody wanted to hire gooks. I found a job at a store,
close to where I lived. One day I had to work
an extra shift. I didn’t want to, because
I had just finished working. I was stressed.
Maybe I saw it coming. My boss insisted,
and eventually I complied. Around half past three
in the morning… …two customers walked in. One Russian man
and one from the Caucasus. They bought two bottles of beer
and left again. They seemed suspicious,
but they left. After that, a man came in. He pulled out a big wallet. It was full of money. The smallest
banknote was 500 roubles. They were notes
of 1000 and 5000 roubles. At that moment
the robbers entered the store. The two men from before. They saw his wallet. I saw them pushing a gun
against his back. I reached for the phone. But they saw it
and grabbed me by the hair. They spread my eyelids apart… …pressed an air gun
against my eye and fired. First in this eye. It barely made a sound. A passer-by
wouldn’t have heard it. I was knocked unconscious,
for about three minutes. Then they shot me in my right eye. First in my left eye
and then in my right. They asked me if I had money.
I said no. Then they shot me a second time,
this time in my right eye. Horrible. I wiped away the blood… …because it was flowing
from my eyes and nostrils. Then they made me undress. Undress. They shot me in my vagina,
four times. Then the Russian man said:
Enough. I started praying,
in Russian and to the Buddha. I stopped breathing
for about six minutes. They thought I was dying.
I couldn’t feel my arms anymore. I didn’t feel pain anymore. I also stopped crying. I didn’t feel pain anymore.
After the prayer I stopped moving. They thought I was dying. Then they ran off. Moscow is not a place for gooks. A lot of people come back abused,
I’m not the only one. Do a lot of Kalmyks go to Moscow
to find work? Yes, a lot. People of all ages.
To make money. Can you make more money there,
or are there no jobs here? There are no jobs here
and wages are low. What’s the average wage
here in Kalmykia? That depends on the work. What does a waitress make here? When I was at the maternity ward… …I asked the cleaning lady
how much money she made. It depends on the hours,
but it’s about 80 euros a month. 80 euros a month? Yes, 80 euros. Almost nothing. There’s no work
for young people here. He did stimulate the cultural
development of Kalmykia. But there’s no work. Young people are hit the hardest.
Many of us leave. To Moscow?
– To Moscow, or Saint Petersburg. Sometimes they even go abroad.
That’s how it goes. If it’s not too personal a question:
How much money do you make? How much I make?
– On average. I still live with my parents,
so I can make ends meet. About 200 euros.
– A month? Is that the average
for young people here? It’s enough for me.
– Enough? Do you have jobless friends?
– Yes, a lot. I didn’t know this paper still existed.
The only Kalmyk opposition paper. There was a journalist
for this paper… …and in 1998,
when Chess City was built… …she started investigating
how the money was spent. But then she was murdered.
She’s dead now. The murderer turned out to be
the president’s ex-bodyguard. But the president
remained in office. It’s always the same in Russia. The offices of opposition papers
and parties are always in ruins. Do you know where the office
of Sovietskaya Kalmykia is? No idea. Do you know where the office
of Sovietskaya Kalmykia is? That way.
– Over there? Sovietskaya Kalmykia?
Visitors from Holland. Good day.
– Hello. How are you?
– Fine. Good day,
I think we’ve met before. Jelle.
– Nikolai. It’s been a while.
– It sure has. This is our latest edition,
dated October 6th. We can’t have our newspaper
printed in Kalmykia. Everyone refuses
to print our paper here. So we have it printed in Volgograd. You’re not allowed to print it here?
– Nobody dares to. We can’t distribute our paper
through official channels either. People can’t subscribe to it. But is it sold at kiosks though?
– No, it’s forbidden. When you leave this building… …and you go right,
in the direction of the market… …you’ll find Vanya there,
vending our newspaper. Who is this?
– This is a portrait of Larisa Yudina. Until 1998, she was the editor
of this newspaper. This portrait was drawn
by our friend Yevgeny Pochomov. Three years ago,
in December 2005. She would have been
60 years old then. She wanted to publish an article
about the corruption here. Between 1994 and 2000,
Kalmykia was… …an illegal tax haven
for businesses. Tax money that should have
gone to the government… …money of more than 6000
businesses registered here… …disappeared without a trace.
You understand? And she was investigating this?
– Yes, she found out about it. I brought a photo of Larisa. How old was she
when she was murdered? She was murdered in June, and
would have turned 53 in October. So she was almost 53. Does everyone in Kalmykia
know about this murder? Everyone knows?
– Yes. When she was buried,
on June 11th… …from the central square
over there… …to here, it was full of people. Everyone wanted
to attend her funeral. We, the opposition in this republic… …organised a demonstration
on September 20th… …to demand
Ilyumzhinov’s resignation. It started outside our office… …and the next day,
the protest moved to the square. There were about 5000 people
marching with us. We hoped that the government in
Moscow would grant our request… …to have Ilyumzhinov
removed from office. The square was surrounded
by riot police. They beat us up and violently
broke up the demonstration. People who left to go home… …were chased down the street
and beaten. That night,
106 people were arrested. Almost everyone was beaten up. I was thrown in jail. They kept me there for nine days. Breaking up the demonstration… …and beating up civilians… …was an order from Moscow,
but at Ilyumzhinov’s request. Ilyumzhinov requested it
and Moscow complied. That was a sign for the opposition:
You can demonstrate all you want… …but Moscow wants
Ilyumzhinov to stay. That was the situation. I’m trying to call the president’s
PR guy one last time. His name is Bumcha… …and I hope he’ll pick up,
because I’ve had enough. I’ve been waiting
for four days now. I guess we’ll just
have to ring the doorbell. This is where the president lives. I’ll just ask if I can see him,
which is why we came here. So let’s go. Good day. We’re from Dutch television.
– No filming here. We have an appointment
with the president. Can you call him?
Is he in his office? No, his office is in City Chess.
– Then we came to the wrong place. In City Chess?
– Yes. He’s in City Chess right now. So we should go there.
– No filming here. Alright, thank you. Goodbye.
– Goodbye. All the FIDE presidents.
– That’s you over there. There have been six presidents. Rueb, Rogard,
Ólafsson and Max Euwe. I became president in 1995,
13 years ago. I believe that chess comes
from the cosmos, or from God. From the cosmos or from God?
– Absolutely. I think it comes from God
because the rules are so universal. Our DNA consists of 64 elements. And a chessboard has 64 squares.
– Unbelievable. It’s a divine message. That can’t be by chance.
– Chance doesn’t exist. Philosophy says:
Chance is natural law in disguise. I wish all Kalmyk children and
all earthlings could play chess. Chess teaches you what’s right. If all conflicts were solved
over a chessboard… …there wouldn’t be
so many problems. You drive a Rolls-Royce
because it’s reliable? When I was an entrepreneur,
I had several Rolls-Royces. They’re my own cars. I didn’t use
government money to buy them. This way, I’m saving
the government money. In France
I had a white Rolls-Royce. In Moscow I had a black one. I used to always buy Rolls-Royces.
They’re reliable cars. Is this your parents’ house? No, it’s a rented house.
We rent it. Does it have a bathroom? There’s nothing here. All these
houses are about to collapse. Everything has to be repaired. We keep having to move. That’s very exhausting for me. But we’ve been renting this house
for two years now. So I’m accustomed to this place.
I know my way around. I can orientate myself well here. All this moving… It’s hard to adapt to a new place?
– Yes, it’s hard. Sasha and Nina, do you have
a request for the president? What would you want to ask him? We tried to arrange a meeting
but we didn’t succeed. We would like to have a house
in the countryside. We don’t need a big house
with all amenities. A two-room apartment
would be good enough. As long as there’s running water. A bathroom?
– Yes, a bathroom and a toilet. Now we have to get our water
from outside. It’s delivered to us. When it rains,
there’s a leak above the stove. We plug it every time,
but it keeps leaking. This house should be
completely renovated. If I weren’t blind,
I wouldn’t need a different house. But I didn’t go blind on purpose,
just to get a new house. Any kind of house will do. We visited a Kalmykian woman. She was working in Moscow
when something happened. Skinheads gouged her eyes out.
I heard about this. Her house is in a very bad state. Plus she’s expecting twins. The house isn’t suitable
for small children. How can she be helped? Through social housing. We’ve developed a programme
for young families. This year, we’ve built
860,000 square feet of housing. Next year we want to double this. We want to build 1,5
to 2 million square feet. We have investors from Moscow. We’re going to build a factory
for construction materials. A brick factory. We want people in need, like this
woman, to have access to housing. This programme is for all
young families in the republic. I think she’ll have a house
within a year. But she really needs it now.
– We know. Because she’s pregnant right now. If would be nice if…
– Of course we’ll help her. As soon as the houses
are completed, we’ll help her. Thank you.
– You too. Nina, where do you find
the strength? How do you stay so positive? Probably thanks to God.
– Thanks to God? Nina, you had a dream
before you became pregnant. Can you tell me how it went? I’m very afraid of dogs. In my dream, I was chased
by two young dogs. I didn’t know what to do. I called Sasha for help,
and he lifted me onto a platform. But they jumped on it
from both sides. They bit my fingers. Were you scared?
– I don’t know. I’ve always been afraid of dogs,
but I’ve never been bitten. First I was very frightened. I screamed: Get them off me.
But they kept attacking me. If you’re bitten by two dogs,
it means you’ll have twins. Did you already know
you were pregnant? I told my husband
that the dream was an omen. I had never been bitten by a dog,
and now by two. God has given me a second life. He has granted me a husband
and two children. And after they’re born, maybe
I’ll be able to see something again. Even if it’s only with one eye. My girlfriend’s grandma worked
as a bookkeeper her entire life. And now she gets a pension
of 100 euros a month. Her city has more than a million
inhabitants, but no street lights. She needs a flashlight
to find her house. Under Putin, billions have
been earned from oil and gas… …but where does
this money end up? Some savvy guys made millions… …like Ilyumzhinov and his Rolls,
and Putin and Abramovich. But for others, the end of
communism meant a disaster. For them, things have
only got worse since then. It’s hard to imagine, but for them
the Soviet times were carefree. Nina gave birth to two healthy
daughters, Alexandra and Angilina. She never heard
from the Kalmyk president.